The Arizona Department of Game and Fish has been monitoring an endangered wolf that has been in the vicinity of Flagstaff and Williams for about two months.
The Mexican gray wolf, named Anubis by seventh graders in an annual pup-naming contest, crossed north of Interstate 40 in May.
But state officials say they may need to capture and relocate the wolf because it has been getting close to populated areas, which could be dangerous for the wolf’s safety.
“A wolf that becomes habituated to humans does not have a bright future,” said Jim deVos, assistant director of wildlife management for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
The wolf has been seen by AZDGF personnel near major roads and some homes feeding on carcasses, deVos said. And that could put the wolf at risk for either being killed by a car or shot by a resident, especially if a homeowner mistakes the wolf for another animal.
But not everyone feels the wolf should be removed.
Conservation groups including the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project have been pushing wildlife managers to simply let the wolf be, and prevent its removal.
Emily Renn, executive director of the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project, said they believe that state officials mainly want to see the wolf gone because it is north of Interstate 40.
That road is the official boundary for the current wolf recovery program. The rules of that program states that wolves should not be north of that boundary.
And Renn said it is natural for young wolves to disperse long distances in order to establish their own territory. Anubis was born just last year to a pack of Mexican gray wolves living on the Gila National Forest in New Mexico and is being tracked through the use of a radio collar.
And Renn said the forest around Flagstaff and north to the Grand Canyon is good habitat for Mexican Gray Wolves.
“That Anubis is here is something we're celebrating,” Renn told the Arizona Daily Sun. “Even if he is around the outskirts of Flagstaff, you know, that's not ideal for a wolf, but that's not inherently dangerous or bad for him. We're surrounded by national forests so there is suitable habitat, there's lots of elk in the area and he's been reported just eating on elk carcasses.”
But Renn added that there may be risks to capturing the wolf and there have been times when wolves have been injured or even died while wildlife managers were trying to capture them. And she said all the same dangers faced by the wolf here, cars and guns, also exist on the Gila National Forest.
For his part, deVos said any decision to remove the wolf won’t be because it is north of the official boundary, but for its own safety and to get it away from people.
“We were aware that the wolf was north of I-40 for several weeks and nobody did anything towards removing it until it started hanging around houses and highways,” deVos said.
DeVos emphasized that any decision to capture the wolf would be made with the consultation of other agencies including the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“[We’re asking] what's the fate of this wolf if we can't get it to leave the proximity to humans? And in our professional view, it's not a bright future,” deVos said. “In the decision sphere of the Fish and Wildlife Service and Game and Fish, the risk of that wolf remaining in close proximity to humans far outweighs the risk of capture and return. We capture wolves routinely.”
The wolf was first near the Williams Airport and near homes before traveling near homes in Baderville and in the area of Woody Mountain Road.
Late last week, the satellite collar showed that Anubis had traveled south of I-40, but deVos said they plan to continue to monitor the wolf’s movements for some time to see if he continues to stay in the vicinity of humans.
If they do end up trying to capture the wolf, deVos said they would either try to shoot the wolf with a dart from a helicopter, or trap it in a humane leg trap.
Regardless of what happens to Anubis, Mexican gray wolves could become more common in northern Arizona.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is in the midst of revising the management rules for Mexican gray wolves after a court order in 2015. At that time, a judge sided with conservation groups who sued the government and insisted that the rules that governed Mexican gray wolves prevented the species’ successful reintroduction.
And those are the same rules that say wolves should not be north of I-40. Those rules also put a cap on the wild population of Mexican gray wolves at 325 across both Arizona and New Mexico.
Renn said they are expecting a draft environmental impact statement of the new rules to be released later this summer or in the fall.
“I think we're just going to keep seeing more and more wolves dispersing north of I-40,” Renn said. “In our area, certainly as the wild population continues to grow. This isn't something that's a matter of if this is going to happen. It's just inevitable.”
Adrian Skabelund can be reached by phone at (928) 556-2261, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @AdrianSkabelund.